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All posts for the month July, 2008

Went to Nashville (and Memphis) last weekend and as well as a celebratory 27th annivesary meal at Merchants we stopped in at 12th & Porter to see The Daisycutters headlining again. Great energetic set by them again, though again a bigger crowd would have helped – so many seemed to have come just to see one of the three bands before leaving, including the bands and hangers-on themselves. Pity, great venue too.

Support were Daylight Brigade and Von Garde. Daylight Brigade were different. Varied arrangements, keyboards and trumpet and shared lead on guitar & vocals – a bit “art-school” and a bit sparse, so probably need to get better acquainted to enjoy. Von Garde were conventional 4-piece with the front-man on rhythm, but excellent snarling delivery all round, plenty of sweaty energy and attitude whilst still having fun. My Generation a-la Oasis with not-quite-gear-smashing a-la Who. Full circle again, ‘cos they are from Bowling Green, KY same as Tommy (Womack). Speaking to the band and their entourage, they knew Tommy and Government Cheese. It was Tommy co-producing The Victrolas, that I first saw Wess Floyd and The Daisycutters supporting.

BTW Plenty new and upcoming from Tommy.

(Memphis – Beale St was lively, and we’d treated ourselves to a stay at the Memphis Hilton, but nothing particularly impressed more than the house-band at B B Kings.)

The subject of fish has come up several times recently – Tigris Carp & Salmon of (Doubt) Wisdom as wise advisors, BabelFish as a metaphor for language independent interoperability interface, and I had become convinced I’d heard of “talking catfish” somewhere before. I say heard of, because I was also recently thinking I was maybe hearing the local catfish amongst all the nightime noise of calling frogs, chuntering ducks, and chattering cicadas. An impression re-inforced when I caught a 3 or 4 pounder in the pond outside the front door and it growled at me.

Yes, this news story really does feature “Professor A. Bass” talking about coastal fish species Midshipmen and Toadfish that buzz and hum to communicate with each other. Trust me, he’s a scientist.

It’s a long time since I qualified as an Aeronautical Engineer and worked on Tornadoes, Hawks and Harriers, and I’m still a sucker for plane-spotting – civil or military. At a time when civil aircraft are all increasingly scale-efficient clones of each other, and air-travel a politically-incorrect chore, driven by ecolo-econo-geo-political considerations, it’s a wow to see the F22 raptor perform (here at Farnborough). A bit of creative freedom, even if it is equally non-PC to be a fan of a military fighting machine.

The display video opens (very briefly) then later an extended sequence (at about 2mins 50) with some amazing slow speed manoevres – you have to keep your eyes on the cloud texture to see which direction the machine is actually moving – tumbling like a snowflake, as the caption says. Clever stuff. I may have to add the F22 to my list of favourite flying machines – F6-Lightning (EE/BAC), F4-Phantom, Mig-23, Harrier, A10-Thunderbolt, F14-Tomcat, and now the F22-Raptor.

A week late blogging this but some things are worth capturing even if late.

Sylvia and I went to Nasville last weekend – 4th July, Independence day on the Friday. We booked into a cheap motel 8 miles, a cab ride, out of town off I40, so as not to have to worry about drinkand/or driving or driving back in the small hours to Hunstville.

So Friday evening we got a cab into the east side of Nashville, just in time to watch the fireworks from the grassed area alongside LP Statdium, across the water from Riverside Park, “behind” but very close to the main display, with the Nashville skyline as a backdrop. Excellent spectacle in four main parts – almost too much going on at once to take it all in at times – from the grond and from the air. Find those starbursts that put out the shaped coloured patterns – cubes, smileys, U’s, S’s & A’s quite surreal amongst the chaotic blitz of light, colour and noise. Breathtaking, and visceral.

We walked with the dispersing thousands through East Nasville to “The 5 Spot” – the reason we’d come to Nashville this particular evening – to see “Wess Floyd and the Daisycutters” – for the third time in my case, the first in Sylvia’s. Blogged before that I’d liked them on first encounter, but didn’t blog about the second time, which turned out to be a wash-out with only 3 of the band and precious few more punters at the gig. What that did mean was that I’d spent half an hour talking to Wess, Andy and Nathan at the bar, and bought a couple of their CD’s, before they agreed with the management to call the whole thing off, after having attempting a partial first set. Sad, but different.

To be fair with three bands on at The 5 Spot gig, complete with hangers-on, it wasn’t a big crowd this night in Nashville either. But with a cover to get in everyone was there to experience the performances – quality beats quantity. With The Daisycutters, of course you can’t get enough guitars, 4 plus the bass is their line-up.

They were as good as I’d remembered, even better with enough fans there to participate physically and enough who knew their songs to sing along, quite unlike the first encounter. And Sylvia loved them too. They were very friendly before and after and engaging during their set, all too brief since they were second on the bill. Amongst the fans was Heath Haynes, who also got up to Jam on their closing number.

The opening act had been excellent too. “Johnny Nobody” from Buffalo, NY. Simple well executed 3 piece with strong rhythms bags of energy and a little attitude, just enough not to alienate an audience. Sylvia and I both liked them, like the Vines she suggested. Bought their CD “What it Feels Like Broke” – we’ve been playing it to death in the car and in the home too.

Headlining were “Harrison Hudson”, another original three piece. More stylised image, a little too clever material for their ability to pull it off – three-pieces have to be really good or really simple to work, in my experience, not much margin for error. Not quite to our taste anyway.

So, why full circle ? Well the reason we came across the Daisycutters in the first place was through the their gigging with the Victrolas, and their connection to the Nashville-based Tommy Womack. With Heath Haynes having been in the Daisycutters crowd, we went across to Lower Broadway after the gig and finished the night in The Full Moon with Josh Hedley (Heath Hayne’s fiddle player) performing with The Travis Mann Band. Anyway after such a good Friday night we decided to stay up for the Saturday too – to see Heath Haynes at Layla’s. So glad we did. All of the Daisycutters in the crowd, and another great set from HH – all covers, as always on Lower Broad, but what a range of blues from country to rock – Roy Orbison to The Ramones. You just have to get up and dance.  Last time we went to see HH at Layla’s, with Robbie, HH was absent and Josh was fronting. No Rich Gilbert or Aaron Oliva this time either, but the coolest bassist we’ve seen in a while standing in for Aaron. Anyway, this time Sylvia discovered, her taste must in fact be heavier than she had previously realised. Visceral quality.

[Caveat - this review may not do the subject justice, but I didn't really notice how good a read it was until I was well into it, by which point not only did I not have any notes, but I was committed to read on to a conclusion. So from memory ...  is the summary (in the bullets) any good ?]

I’ve had a copy of Alastair MacIntyre’s (1981, 2nd Ed 1984) “After Virtue” tucked away on a bookshelf for some time. I vaguely remembered I’d bought it on the recommendation of Rev Sam, but no recollection of why it came to be tucked-away unread. [I since discover it's Sam's most important read ever - after being turned onto things philosophical by ZMM, like myself, and away from "scientism", as I already was before I read ZMM, "After Virtue" turned Sam to Christianity and theology. Wow. Matt too claims MacIntyre and After Virtue as an important route to understanding the Greeks.]

So, my atheistic reading of “After Virtue”:

Firstly, it is a read that requires some effort – it is in large part a scholarly review of the history of philosophy on the subject of morals & ethics – the virtues, from the pre-Socratics forward. That might make him a mere “philosophologist” in Pirsigian terms, if it weren’t that MacIntyre were clearly working towards his own agenda. The difficulty of the scholarly subject matter is compounded by MacIntyre’s somewhat pompous and knowing, even supercilious, style …  I regularly got the impression of dense passages concluded with intellectually-smart-ass summaries and even dismissals (pot & kettle here maybe ?). Anyway, with your wits about you, the effort seems worth it.

As a reformed Marxist, he shows great fondness for Nietzsche and Marx, but ultimately these moderns too are flawed when it comes to virtue. In fact although MacIntyre does develop his after virtue agenda, it is clearly just a start to be further developed in his later writings.

In essence he is describing the interminable debate on the best or right ontology of “the virtues” and their relation to the ontology / epistemology of existence generally. That is, not only has the history of that debate been interminable, it is in practice never going to be complete and consistent, and therefore doomed to remain unintelligible, without a missing ingredient. [Ref Tom's dissertation ?]

Nietzsche showed that as currently understood, all existing bases of morals were flawed, and his creative destruction was to sweep them all away. As I do, MacIntyre believes Nietzsche himself did not really provide a satisfactory alternative. MacIntyre uses his study of the Greeks to show that most interpretations of Aristotle which concluded that he too was flawed (haven’t we all ?), threw out too much of the Aristotelian baby with the bathwater.

Much of the history of the debate over the virtues is described – differences between doing the right thing for the right reasons, failing to do the right thing but for the right reasons, doing the apparently right thing but for the wrong reasons, internal and external goods, and so on. The game theory of needing to predict human behaviour in order to decide one’s own best behaviour – and all the Machiavellian twists that evolve from that. Reviewing all the Greek schools of thought, mediaeval, renaissance, post-enlightenment and modern schools – the index of references is a who’s who: Kant, Mill, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, you name ‘em.

Sticking in my mind Jane Austen and T E Lawrence. The latter a special interest of mine, the former still largely a source of ignorance to me unfortunately.

The T E Lawrence reference is simply of ironic value to me. In fact MacIntyre mentions TEL only in the context of the wickedness (or otherwise) of sado-masochism – whereas to me the TEL subject is that “it” – life, the universe and everything – “is (not) written” – the irony will become clear in the summary of MacIntyre’s thesis later.

Jane Austen ? A large part of the interminable historical debate on the virtues has been the relationships between them – whether it is possible to hold one virtue and not another – whether there really are virtues or simply virtue. Much of the discussion of the Greeks and other earlier commentators hinges on how imprecisely the linguistic translation of various words for various virtues can be unambiguous anyway. Where’s Wittgenstein when you need him ? MacIntyre draws heavily on the work of Jane Austen to illustrate the complexities of recognizing individual virtues in the lives of people who either are or are not virtuous, and either are or are not free to choose the right actions in their situations.

To cut a long story about which philosophers got what right and wrong, about rights and wrongs, I would summarize MacIntyre’s thesis as follows: So after virtues we get to virtue, and if even virtue is indeterminate, what after virtue … ?

  • All decision-making, expressed as well as in action & behaviour, of (human) individuals and institutions, is done with intention and in context.
  • In order for that decision-making rationale to be intelligible, to the participants and witnesses, they must be expressed as part of a greater “narrative”. A narrative with a beginning, a history, a middle, a now, a future, and an end. And that’s an end in every sense, place and time yes, but also in terms of telos, purpose and meaning towards that end.
  • So, we are all writing our local narratives, rationalizing our thoughts, intents and actions, in the context of that greater narrative, consistent with the telos (or not).
  • That greater narrative is provide by a mythological tradition within a culture. Clearly therefore different cultures will maintain and evolve different such narratives, even though they will share common features of being such a necessary telos. The grand narrative – the tradition of moral virtue – is cultural.
  • Good governance, of collections of individuals in societies and institutions is really based on that moral tradition of virtue. The rules of politics and institutional law are simply pragmatic issues of effectiveness and efficiency.
  • The grand narrative is “written” by the tradition, to provide the context within which individual local narratives may then be written, with or without levels of creativity and freedom, but the local narratives are not themselves pre-written in the tradition.
  • Those individual narratives are indeed written by the participants, but the individuals cannot choose their narrative completely independently of the the tradition and still be intelligible.

It is clear that MacIntyre’s thesis is leading to the Christian tradition – he concludes that what we are really waiting for is “another St. Benedict” to lead us out of the “predicament of our times”. Never been convinced of those “of our times” perspectives, but no matter – ’twas ever thus. Clearly the Christian thesis is developed in his later work, so the argument is incomplete here as to which cultural tradition – but the argument so far is well made. I would guess his argument is going to be that the best mythological tradition for you is the one that is already most developed in your culture – they can’t simply be written on a blank slate.

We need a cultural tradition that provides a telos - a purpose and meaning to life. No amount of logic, objectivity, science or rationality can define the narrative mythological content of that tradition. It is simply written. Even a scientist has to take that on “faith”.

[For me this is entirely consistent with the fact that the acceptance of any metaphysics depends on some ineffable core - not amenable to independent objective rationale of any kind. It is also consistent with my fascination for the teleological aspects of the more serious views of anthropic principles.]

Just read Saul Bellow’s “Dangling Man” his first book, written in 1944 – he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Picked-up on Bellow for the Chicago Uni connections, but otherwise no strong connection to my agenda in Dangling Man – references and allusions to Goethe and Dostoevsky abound.

Joeseph, is the man dangling in limbo after having signed-up for Army service, awaiting his call to duty, with freedom to think, write, do anything in fact limited by his domestic situation and resources, and the indeterminate window of time. After much reflection on life, freedom is cancelled by notice of his call-up.

This is my last civillian day. Iva has packed my things. It is plain that she would like me to show a little more giref at leaving. For her sake, I would like to. And I am sorry to leave her, but I am not at all sorry to part with the rest of it. I am no longer to be held accountable for myself; I am grateful for that. I am in other hands, relieved of self-determination, freedom cancelled.

Hurray for regular hours ! And for supervision of the spirit ! Long live regimentation !

Saul Bellow, “Dangling Man” (1944)

I also have Bellow’s 1982 “The Dean’s December” and I guess I should also read his 1964 “Herzog”.

Still need to finish Chris Wilson’s “Healing the Unhappy Caveman” – blogged my incomplete review earlier with a long comment thread with the author. A job for this weekend, but first I need to review another important read. Next post.

Interested in this news story from our position here in Huntsville, AL. The NASA Space Shuttle timetable formally announced now up to the final mission on 31st May 2010.

Follow the links to the NASA Constellation / Ares / Orion project which will provide subsequent manned NASA missions.

The Huntsville connection ? Wernher-vonBraun / Operation-Paperclip / Redstone-Arsenal / Marshall-Space-Flight-Centre / Apollo / Saturn I & V and now the J2X engine to power Ares V.

Interesting on the MSFC home page; the biographical sketch of Ernst Stuhlinger, vonBraun’s No.2, who died recently 25th May 2008 aged 94. This lively old boy made an impression on Sylvia when she met him last year, amongst another things waxing philosophical about the ironic sign o’the times changing for the better as he considered that a doctor working to prolong his life in the 21st century … was Jewish. (Actually interesting to read the biographical notes and earlier quotes – major engineering projects really about working cooperatively with people, for the future of the planet.)

Interesting also to see also the SpaceX / Falcon / Dragon project may run privately-funded space-station missions in the meantime – hadn’t noticed that before.

We were discussing at an extended family meal week before last how the Godfather trilogy was quality drama – perhaps Godfather III being the weakest. Sylvia and I recalled and discussed it further for some reason over the weekend and noticed we had only a VHS recording of the trilogy, and no longer any video player – so we resolved to obtain a DVD set of the trilogy.

Night before last Godfather III was showing late, 2 hrs 45 mins ending about 01:20 on a commercial-free, free channel – so I watched it … out of sequence as it were. I guess it must have been some sort of director’s cut, becuase there were extended and additional scenes not quite how I recall them. It was and still is excellent.

That silent scream in the penultimate scene – haunting – more haunting than its immediate cause, the death of daughter Mary. Michael really had gone straight – as legit as a capitalist with a history can be anyway – in the whole Part III plot. Every cross with the dark side was his being dragged back in by those still involved with the family history, and his involvement based on balancing duties. The touch points with real contemporary history add to the drama – God’s Banker and the election and death of Pope John Paul I and so on – like the Batista overthrow in Godfather II, but now I digress.

[Post Note : We did get the trilogy set on DVD, and after III above, watched I, II & III again over three nights. Would say II is the weakest overall, III has some flaws but is excellent, and I remains the original. The whole trilogy is a magnificent morality play, worth some study methinks. Intriguing to see the characters and actors playing them that survive the 90 year history across all three films, and those that don't. Aparently the bonus DVD has bio's and timelines of both characters and players.]